Electrical Engineers On A Mission

July 27, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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Lighting Consultants
Lynn Surdock and Amy Zeboor Are Concerned
For The Environment

Lynn Surdock and Amy Zeboor would like to throw a little light on the subject of "green" buildings — as little light as necessary, to be precise.

Surdock and Zeboor are electrical engineers who recently formed a consulting firm in Belmont called WPF Engineering. The two engineers want to help protect the natural environment, while providing their clients with energy-efficient buildings that help lower energy costs in the long run.

The most frequent electrical engineering mistake in new construction or renovation projects is ending up with light levels that are too high, said Zeboor.

"People will notice when they don’t have enough light but often don’t notice when they have too much, even if this is causing a reduction in productivity or physical discomfort," she said. And of course, when a building is "over-lit," it also is wasting money on materials and energy use.

On new construction, the two use computerized lighting programs that calculate light levels and how the light is dispersed. They also perform energy audits on existing buildings and recommend lighting revisions to correct improper use of lighting.

"We know you can create an aesthetically pleasing design that enhances the architecture, is comfortable for the occupants — and also energy efficient," she said.

Both Surdock and Zeboor have significant experience in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects, including the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Grand Rapids Ballet Company building, West Ottawa Public Schools, and Hope Lodge in Grand Rapids.

Zeboor is a LEED-accredited professional for design and documentation leading to LEED certification. LEED certification is a third-party validation of a building’s performance, focused primarily on environmental factors. LEED-certified buildings cost less to operate and maintain, are energy- and water-efficient, and have higher lease-up rates than conventional buildings in their markets. A LEED building is also a physical demonstration of the values of the organizations that own and occupy them.

The USGBC now has 9,448 member companies and organizations. More than 1 billion square feet of building space are involved with the LEED program — more than 700 buildings. The annual U.S. market in green building products and services was more than $7 billion in 2005 and is expected to increase to $12 billion this year.

The new Grand Rapids Art Museum, which is scheduled to open in early October, will be the "first newly constructed (LEED-certified) art museum in the world," according to the GRAM Web site. Zeboor and Surdock were involved with the lighting control systems.

Among other features that make the building a LEED building is a system that captures rainwater on the roof and uses it to flush toilets in the building, rather than discharging it into storm drains. The building also has a system that pumps fresh air underground, where it is naturally cooled, and then pumped into the building to help reduce demand on the air-conditioning system. The new Grand Rapids Art Museum was the subject of an article in The New York Times on March 29: "In Michigan, A Green Museum."

"It can cost 10 to 20 percent more to be a LEED-certified project," noted Surdock. Extra costs come from recycling material that would otherwise go to a landfill, and paying more for "earth-friendly" paints, sealants, carpet and "renewable" products.

Depending on the level of LEED certification sought, the engineers can specify mechanical, plumbing and electrical products that use less energy and water. More insulation and windows with a higher thermo rating also push costs up. Upfront costs pay back with better indoor air quality and lower bills for water, gas and electric.

"Fluorescent is becoming the primary light source due to its light output and low-energy draw," said Surdock.

In most applications, occupancy sensors that turn off lights when no one is present "have a payback of one to two years, often less than a year. The best way to save energy is to turn it off," said Surdock.

She noted that energy-saving lighting control is already required by Michigan building code for most commercial buildings.

"Designing this lighting control is what WPF Engineering excels at," she said.

Surdock and Zeboor are good friends who had been working for several years at the Grand Rapids architectural firm Design Plus.

"Lighting is our specialty," noted Surdock, so to focus on lighting design as much as possible, they decided to go on their own in 2006.

As electrical engineers, they specify and design lighting as well as electrical technology systems for A/V, security, fire, communications and lighting controls.

While WPF Engineering is still fairly new, Zeboor and Surdock are not new to electrical engineering. Zeboor, a native of Walled Lake, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1988.

Surdock, originally from Westland, holds the same degree, which she earned at the University of Maryland in 1992.

Zeboor began her career working for Meijer Inc., where she worked at setting new store standards, construction quality control and implementing remodel projects. Surdock launched her career at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Washington, D.C., then worked at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.

The two first met at a regional conference of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America about 10 years ago. They are active members of that organization and of the Society of Women Engineers. They were, in fact, the founders of the West Michigan section of that organization.

Their concern for the environment is reflected in their involvement in the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization dedicated to fighting light pollution, which is defined as "any adverse effect of artificial light including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night, and energy waste."

As electrical engineers, the two are involved in projects with total construction costs ranging from $2.5 million to $100 million, usually hired by any one of a wide variety of architectural firms in West Michigan, including Jeffrey Parker Architects, Design Plus, True North Architects, Bravo Architects and others. They also are brought into projects by major electrical contractors in the region.

WPF Engineering has a lot of experience in church construction, often through Jeffrey Parker Architects, a Grand Rapids architectural firm that has been designing churches since 1983. One of the largest projects they are involved in currently is First Wesleyan Church in Battle Creek.

Zeboor and Surdock have also been involved over the years in major church construction in Detroit and Chicago, including one church that seats about 7,000 people.

As WPF Engineering, one or the other works as the primary engineer on each project, but the other always has some involvement and can serve as backup if needed. They also do routine quality control checks on the other's work, a standard practice at many engineering firms. CQ

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